Thompson, Manitoba may not seem like an obvious destination for someone from Nigeria, but for Justice and Public Safety graduate Olufemi Ogungbemi, moving over 10,000 km to the icy Prairies was exactly what he needed to find his family — and discover his dream career.
“To graduate and get a good job [in Nigeria] is really hard,” says Ogungbemi, a 28-year-old native of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. “I love my country, and I am a proud Nigerian, but the economy was suffering because of poor leadership in government. I felt Canada was a better opportunity for me.”
The chance to start a new life in Canada came in 2005, when Ogungbemi’s uncles — James Ogungbemi Jackson, a probation officer, and David Ogungbemi, an RCMP officer — asked him to move to Winnipeg, their home for over 40 years. In 2011, following years of paperwork, Olufemi arrived in Manitoba, where his uncles, both graduates of Red River College, wasted no time in introducing him to their alma mater.
“I can still remember the first day [Uncle James] took me to see the Notre Dame Campus,” says Ogunbemi, who also holds a degree in accounting from Lagos State Polytechnic. “I liked everything about the school, and the same day I registered to take a course in Justice and Public Safety.”
While Ogungbemi’s uncles inspired him to follow in their line of work, the idea to work in a justice position was one he’d had since witnessing corruption throughout Nigeria’s legal system.
“There is so much injustice back home [in Nigeria]. I really felt this is what I wanted to do: to protect life and properties, to keep the public peace, and keep people safe. Back home, if you join the police force, they are really corrupt; there is corruption everywhere. When I came to Canada, I felt I had a great platform to continue to my goal.”
RRC gave Ogungbemi the chance to learn how Canadian law contrasts with Nigerian law, one difference of which he found particularly profound: “It gives people a second chance to change their ways of life.”
Hearing about Canada’s own legal history — especially the residential school system — motivated him to embrace the country’s aboriginal cultures, and even to begin to learn the Cree language.
“You learn [at RRC] to be respectful, and not be biased towards any group that you’re working with.”
The lessons resonated with Ogungbemi because of the instructors they came from — former correctional and RCMP officers who offered first-hand examples of working in the justice system.
As a sheriff’s officer with Manitoba Justice, Ogungbemi now spends his days providing security at the provincial court in Thompson, managing juries, and overseeing the transport and release of prisoners throughout Manitoba. “In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think I’d be travelling so much,” he says.
Ogungbemi’s path to success hasn’t been without difficulties: his mother, “the best mom in the world,” died in 2010, just before his move to Canada, and his father died shortly after his graduation from RRC in 2014.
His secret to enduring through adversity? Unwavering positivity.
“I’ve always been a positive person. Even when things aren’t going right, I try to stay positive. I guess I got it from my dad and from my mom. No matter what they were going through back home — struggling to take care of our family — they stayed positive; they stayed true to themselves.”
His positivity also helps him find hope in what can be an inherently pessimistic profession.
“I know sometimes [the justice system] can be a negative environment, but you make it positive. You talk to inmates and try to give them advice so that they can change their ways, and maybe one day they can help society.”
Ogungbemi shares his enthusiastic message with anyone seeking his help — whether it’s current RRC students looking for tips on their exams, or the at-risk children he mentors during his weekend job at Macdonald Youth Services in Thompson.
“I want to make a change out there. I want to be a better person.”